Cover Letters

Basic Tips

  • There is no such thing as a generic cover letter!  Customize each letter to the specific position and company where you are applying, emphasizing your relevant skills and experience.
  • Address the letter to a specific person if possible. You may need to contact the company to ask for the name and title of the appropriate person. If you cannot get a name, “Dear Hiring Manager” is acceptable.
  • Use a standard (block text) business letter format.
  • Keep the letter to one page or less.
  • Use descriptive action verbs to describe what you have done in past paid and volunteer positions.
  • Proofread your letter carefully before sending it!

Suggested Layout

A cover letter generally has three main parts: an introduction (one paragraph), a body (usually one to three paragraphs), and a conclusion (one paragraph).


Explain why you are interested in the company or organization and in the specific position to which you are applying (reference a job title and/or number, if available).  Indicate where or how you found out about the position (Nittany Lion Careers, personal referral, etc.). 

The last sentence of your introductory paragraph should provide an overview of the topics you plan to cover in the rest of the letter (e.g., “My internship experience last summer working in the automotive industry, my leadership skills as president of Penn State ASME last year, and my volunteer work as a math tutor have all prepared me well for this position”).


Make the case for your candidacy by providing specific examples of your experience and qualifications for the position you want.  Use key words from the job description to show that you understand what the position entails.  Identify specific examples that highlight at least two or three of your skills and/or paid or unpaid work that would fit with what the employer is seeking (as stated in the job description).

If you don’t have the exact type of experience the employer wants, emphasize your transferable skills (e.g., discuss your leadership potential at the company based on leadership experience you’ve had in student or volunteer organizations).


Restate your interest in the job and the company and briefly summarize your strengths and qualifications (e.g., “I am very interested in working as a test engineer at ABC Company, and I feel that my past internship in this industry, my leadership skills, and my volunteer experiences have all given me the background I need to be successful in this position”). Request an interview if you know the company will be interviewing soon and indicate what you will do to follow up with the employer.

Sign off with “Sincerely” or “Best regards” and your name.

Sample Documents

See our Sample Job Search Documents page for examples of different types of cover letters.


Engineering Career Resources & Employer Relations

College of Engineering

117 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4710

Phone: 814-863-1032